All I see lately are recruitment conferences focused almost entirely on technology. It seems as if other things — the really important skills that differentiate the skilled recruiter from the amateur — are not important anymore.
I am not anti-technology, have written a lot about what it can do for us, and I know that it has made many parts of our job easier and more effective than before. But I am afraid that we have become so trapped and enamored by the technology that other, and perhaps more valuable, skills have atrophied.
Over the past 20 years we have added layer after layer of technology to the recruitment process. We have advanced, Internet-based social media techniques, sophisticated sourcing methods, artificial intelligence, bots, insights about candidates from social media profiles, and complex interviewing processes aided with technology. But we achieve about the same results as recruiters did in pre-technology times. When we look at recruiting statistics, we see that time to present, time to fill, cost per hire, and other figures remain about the same as they were decades ago.
How has the technology helped? Is our productivity better? Are our candidates of higher quality? Do candidates have a better experience than they did 20 years ago?
If the results of the Cande Awards and other surveys are to be believed, candidates are not very happy with the recruitment process. Many hiring managers, as well, express dismay over the quality of recruiters and the time it takes to fill positions. Even recruiters are frustrated and struggle to please increasingly hard-to-please hiring managers and candidates.
So, what is wrong?
It comes down largely to an over-reliance on technology and a lack of skills that may be more powerful and useful than the technology. We are a generation of techies and have come to rely so much on tools, apps, and the Internet that we feel other ways are old fashioned or not as effective.
Yet, the six skills that I feel are fundamental for successful recruiting have little to do with technology. Perhaps two or three of them can be enhanced with technology, but not completely eliminated by it.
Here are those six skills.
Skill #1: Knowing who and what skills you are looking for and having a good relationship with the hiring manager
Often significantly lacking is a recruiter’s deep knowledge and understanding of the positions they are filling. Some of these positions are technical and require high level-technical knowledge. Others, perhaps all, require contextual knowledge of the work, the culture, the teammates, and other factors that lead to success. Understanding the position is time consuming and requires a good relationship with both the hiring managers and the work team.
Managers may characterize a position in a way that is contrary to what he really wants or needs. Team members may have very different ideas about a position than the manager. A respected recruiter can engage in a discussion, influence, and know for certain that the skills he is looking for are the right ones.
This is a skill that requires the ability to influence as well as a relationship that is based on respect and mutual understanding. Technology cannot help here.
Skill #2: Being curious, always in discovery mode for talent, and figuring out what the essential characteristics are that successful candidates have
Finding the right talent is much an art as it is science. Headhunters and top recruiters often relate stories of how they found the perfect candidate sitting next to them on an airplane or at a social gathering. These people have the ability to engage in casual conversation, connect with all types of people, and keep them engaged over time. They are curious and always on the lookout for people what might, at some point, fit into a position they are filling.
It is about having intuition and a deep enough understanding of a hiring manager that they can see how a person might be attractive or have the right skills. This is why, despite advanced sourcing techniques, we often cannot find the right candidate. Great headhunters are high-level networkers and pride themselves in building large and diverse networks that can help them find anyone they need.
Technology can build bridges and keep people who already know each other in touch, and perhaps even deepen their relationship. However, the “friends” we have on LinkedIn or Facebook or Instagram and usually superficial ones. It is almost impossible to know what a person is really like, or what skills they have, through a superficial Internet-based connection.
Skill #3: Being a good listener and asking the right questions of any serious candidate
When you think you’ve found the right candidate, the recruiting process is just beginning. In fact, the hardest part is unfolding. The top recruiter will be able to engage the candidate in conversation that brings out not only skills, but also apprehensions, fears, likes, needs, and much more. How these get woven into the ultimate offer will mean the difference between success and failure. Being able to ask appropriate and useful questions is also as much as art as a science. There are entire courses on how to ask precise and powerful questions.
But is just as important to listen carefully to the candidate and hear what they are saying between the lines. I was once interviewed for a position at a large company in Boston. I am from New England and went to university in Boston, so the recruiter made an assumption that I would like to be back. Even though I made several comments about how I disliked the gray skies and the cold weather, he moved forward confidently that I would accept an offer. While I did seriously consider the offer, in the end the gray skies and weather won. I turned down the offer.
If he has been really listening and if he had asked me point blank if those factors would be major ones on my decision, we both might have made a better choice. He also did not really consider if my wife would want to move and leave her job. There are lots of red flags he did not see.
Technology really doesn’t add anything to this.
Skill #4: The ability to influence and negotiate with both hiring managers and candidates
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Negotiation is a skill that most of us are not very good at, but one that can make you successful.
When I look back at my own career and those of my colleagues, the thing that stands out is our rather amateurish attempts at negotiation, especially with hiring managers.
Step one in good negotiation is to have dome research before the start of the process. Know your facts, have data ready to present, and practice it before someone to see where the holes are. The second step is to be able to use this data and explain why you are proposing a course of action or a decision. The third step is to listen carefully to objections, have already thought about as many of them as you can, and have some answers ready. Finally, be willing compromise and reach a win-win solution. Negotiating isn’t about winning. It is about finding the best mutually agreeable solution.
Again, technology doesn’t help here.
Skill #5: Skilled at putting together an offer that entices and overcomes objections
Creating the right offer package and presenting it in an appropriate time and way is another step to success. Ideally you have listened carefully to the candidate and run a trial version of the offer by him and the manager. You’ve noted any issues or objections and discussed them with the manager or compensation and made adjustments. Or at least you have a strategy about how you will convey any differences in expectations to the candidate.
Most recruiters will say that they always do this. But what I observe is that most of them quickly put together a boilerplate version, often generated by the ATS or other software, get it approved, and then immediately get it to the candidate.
A much better, but more time-consuming, way is to make sure the offer is personalized to the extent the candidate knows that you have really listed to him. You also need to present it to him personally with explanations. And you need to listen to, even anticipate, his comments or concerns and have a plan of action to follow up. This is also where negotiation skills play a part.
Technology can prepare basic offers and offer some insights, but it still takes a recruiter and a hiring manager to cobble together the final offer.
Skill #6: Following up on the chosen candidate to make sure s/he shows up
Many candidates simply do not show up on their start date or continue to interview after they have accepted an offer in the hope of getting something better.
Experience has shown that staying in touch with them after acceptance is important. Both the recruiter and the hiring manger need to send an email, a personalized card, or a letter to the candidate immediately after acceptance. Even better: follow up a week or so later with another email or phone call to check-in and see what issues, if any, have come up.
Some managers ask their team members to get in touch and welcome the new person either by phone or email. The more contact and interaction, the most likely it is that the candidate will show up and be positive about his future.
And here technology can help by offering reminders and making connecting easier. It won’t help you with the psychology of getting in touch personally.
If you sharpen these six skills, rely less on the tools and their promises, you will be a much more successful recruiter.